Today, I talk with Raj from MCAT Bros, a popular Instagram account offering guidance to premeds. We discuss MCAT books, study schedules, mindset, and more!
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:55] Interest in Becoming a Physician
Raj became interested in becoming a physician back in high school. He was exposed to hospital settings and started dabbling in it. His grandfather got sick and had cancer at one point. He started shadowing at a nursing home and started doing transport at a big hospital nearby. At that point, he felt he could see himself in medicine as a long-term career.
[03:10] BS/MD and BS/DO Programs
B.S. MD and B.S. DO are programs you apply in high school that could run for 6 to 8 years. You have to have SAT and SAT-2 scores. Apply to both the undergraduate and the medical school.
You have to interview at both the undergraduate and the medical school. Not all undergraduate schools have these types of agreements. You have to seek out these programs.
Make sure you meet all their requirements both the ones for the medical school and for the program. These include clinical experience, research, volunteering, and good academic grades. They look at your passion and whether you can make it through eight years of this.
A lot of students don’t make it through these programs because they’re too young at 17 or 18. So if you’re going to consider these programs, really be serious about it.
You have to be really committed and you have to know it’s for you. Otherwise, you’re never going to make it to the program and you’ll find another passion. Some people find their passion in undergrad and some find it during medical school and drop out.
Getting clinical experience is very important. If you have the grades, maybe a school will accept you without clinical experience. But get the clinical experience before you decide for eight years where you’re going to be for undergrad all through medical school.
This way, you’re able to guarantee yourself that this is what you want and reduce your stress in premed. Transfer some of that over to high school. This gives you a bit of intellectual freedom in undergrad. You could already do clubs that are not premed-related. You could pursue a different degree or a different major. You can actually do that.'The B.S. MD and B.S. DO programs offer a lot of flexibility.'Click To Tweet
You don’t need clinical experience. There’s no pressure. You don’t need to have a 4.0. You don’t’ have to kill yourself to learn these things. You can do the knowledge for the pursuit of knowledge rather than the grade because you don’t actually need the grade.
[Related episode: MD vs DO: What Are the Differences?]
[06:38] Being a Premed and The Challenges That Come With It
Ultimately, Raj went for the BS/DO program. He really didn’t do a lot of premed stuff that most premeds do in undergrad. He was in the student government and did teaching jobs. He did some clinical experience and explored different parts of his personality in undergrad.
He was learning to learn, collaborating, and building a community of premed peers to help each other out. He graduated in three years and took a year off. He took his MCAT (although his school didn’t require it) and had a bit of time for himself until he started medical school.
The biggest challenge he had as a premed in one of those programs was feeling that you had to stay in medicine. He felt a lot of pressure but it was an amazing opportunity that he had to continue. There was also the pressure of having to keep your grades up.'I've seen students who don't meet the cut-off for their requirements can get in the normal way to a different medical school.'Click To Tweet
Every school is different. Different universities have different cut-offs. Some schools can also be lenient, other schools will really boot you out. One university may have a very high requirement but there are other universities that will take that student. However, they always want that minimum GPA.
The six-year programs (two years of undergrad) will obviously make you a physician faster. But they’re very, very tough. Raj chose the four-year program instead.
[10:05] Taking the MCAT Even When You Don’t Need To
There are other schools that don’t require you to get an MCAT either. But Raj personally thinks this could even work to disadvantage.
You have to hone your test-taking skills and the MCAT is one great way to do that. The USMLE Step 1 is much harder. And even if you got a 4.0 in undergrad, the MCAT can still be challenging.'Even if they don't require an MCAT, try even if you don't need it.'Click To Tweet
Raj took the MCAT anyway. He struggled with standardized testing. He took his SAT-2 twice and his SAT twice as well. He had to study really hard to get a decent score to get him into a BS/DO program.
So he challenged himself to take the MCAT to see if he could learn the material he was supposed to learn. He wanted to see whether he can retain what he learned, apply it, and see how well he can do.
He admitted he didn’t take the MCAT seriously for a while because there wasn’t any urgency. But he still did try his best. That said, he urges students to take the MCAT even when you don’t need to.
[Related episode: When Should I Take the MCAT?]
[13:05] The Biggest Misconception Students Have About the MCAT
One of the biggest misconceptions students have about the MCAT is that they did well on their premed classes so they’d also do well on the MCAT. Or they can just study for six weeks to two months and still do well because their friend did it.'All the best-case scenario that they heard, they try to apply to themselves. And that's a huge misconception and it messes up their timeline.'Click To Tweet
You have to take the MCAT on your Junior year before you graduate to have the best possible chance for an MD program in the United States. But no one tells you this. The chance of you taking the MCAT in January and getting in by March is slim.
For DO programs, Raj suggests taking the MCAT in August. This is something students don’t understand that much, timeline-wise.
There are also students deferring the MCAT until they graduate. So they purposefully take gap years to do that. This is another option you can do especially if you’re struggling with your classes.
Take your time because grades are so expensive to repair. It involves so much time and money. So focus on your grades. Have a decent GPA. Then everything else can be worked out later.'Focus on your classes. Worry about the MCAT later. You don't need to add more to your plate when you're already struggling with the basics.'Click To Tweet
If you have good grades and you’re able to manage a light semester or able to study over summer, then you can take it during that time. If you’re not able to handle the MCAT, then worry about it later.
[19:05] What Books to Buy for the MCAT
Every test prep company does a good job and they improve their products over time too. There are some companies that focus more on practice questions. But they may take longer to get through. So you need to have that time. If this is what you want to do, the Berkeley Review is great.
If you need some experimental questions, Examkrackers does a great job They have 30-minute exams with really hard questions. If you need a good content review, try Kaplan and Princeton Review, with the latter being a little more dense.'At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what has more or what has less. Do what works for you.'Click To Tweet
Ultimately, pick a resource that you like learning from. And if you do that, any resource will improve your score a lot. You don’t necessarily need MCAT books to do well on this test.
Raj watched almost all Khan Academy videos. He didn’t really know it was a viable option. And it’s important to know that you can go to the AAMC outline and use any resource. It doesn’t need to be an MCAT resource even though you might feel it isn’t an MCAT resource.'Books are great. But you don't need to read a book from cover to cover to do well on this test.'Click To Tweet
Videos are great because you need some more things to explain to you. These days, we’re living on videos and podcasts to help ourselves learn. If you’re not going to use videos as a primary resource, then absolutely use it as a supplemental.
One company is not the bible for the MCAT. The name of the company doesn’t matter. It’s only one person’s opinion. At the end of the day, do what works for you. Find the resources that work for you. Go to the library. Go to your prehealth office.
See what works for you and see how much time you have to study. Your resources can be very different than if you have four months to study where you can use something more comprehensive.
[22:50] How Long Should You Study
Raj thinks you need to study about 20-30 hours per one-point improvement that you want. If you’re looking for a ten-point jump from a diagnostic test, spend 200-300 hours.'300 is the base minimum to really do this.'Click To Tweet
The AAMC material consists of 2,500 questions. So if you’re spending 5 minutes a question, that’s 12,500 minutes. That’s almost 150-200 hours you should be spending on the AAMC material alone. Then maybe do another 100 hours of content review on top of that.
If you have a weak background, you’re going to be re-learning all your prereqs. You can actually take the MCAT without your prereqs, but you’re going to be adding 80 hours of time for every prereq you’re missing to your MCAT. Go do that if you can and you will be successful. But if you’re not willing to do that, take your prereqs.
The MCAT is a test of hard work. You don’t need to be super smart to get a score that can get you to medical school. But you need to work hard. You need to make compromises. Maybe you need to scale down your work. You’ve got to find a way. And maybe a year is what you require.
Don’t apply if you’re not ready. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money and you’ll be frustrated.
Don’t make it an excuse that your parents are pushing you because it’s only going to lead to disasters. It’s a waste of money. You’re reducing your chances of getting into medical school. You’re spending more time. It’s all a mess.
[Related episode: How Long Should You Study for the MCAT?]
[27:25] Common Traits Among the Most Successful MCAT Students
The common traits Raj sees among students who take the MCAT successfully include consistency, passion to improve, the willingness to find the resources to improve.
They’re willing to learn from their practice questions. They’re also willing to supplement their resources and seek out the information. They’re willing to actively engage with the material.
There are also people who really track their progress. They write down their mistakes from their practice questions and learn from them. They review those mistakes. This takes hard work, not just hours.'Successful students are also very realistic. They're interested more in knowledge and improving rather than how to get a 520 or taking a shortcut to this process.'Click To Tweet
Anki is the trend nowadays too if you want to do spaced repetition. But you don’t necessarily have to do this.
[30:35] Lifestyle Change and Habits
When studying for the MCAT two months before the test, maybe cut out the parties or the drinking as it’s not good for learning anyway. Think about delayed gratification.
Raj also noticed that a lot of nontraditional are a lot more serious. They end up being more successful because they usually have it together at that point.
While a lot of the undergrads are thinking they just have to get it done but they don’t have that discipline required to actually get it done.'What is actually required to get it done?'Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Study Habits and Tips for the Premed Student]
[32:35] Creating a Study Schedule
Take a diagnostic test. AAMC recommends you take their sample test. However, spending $268 when you’re first starting for your test is not the best thing. You can buy it separately but you’re going to have to buy all of them too. So just use the free exam. It can be harder or maybe a little less accurate but that’s okay. As long as you’re getting a good baseline understanding of where you are right now.'Take a diagnostic test and see where you're at.'Click To Tweet
Be realistic. Figure out how much time do you actually need. Again, remember that you need 300 hours minimum for the actual studying. If that’s 2 hours a day, maybe that’s 150 days. And if it’s 8 hours a day, maybe it’s only about 2-3 months.
Make that analysis for yourself then decide what materials you want to use. There is so much out there. There are classes, books, videos, question banks, tests, AAMC materials, podcasts, etc. Do as much as research as you can in one day and once you pick it, stick with it until it’s totally not working for you. Just do it.'Stick with it as much as you can and supplement it with resources as required. Don't go out and buy more stuff.'Click To Tweet
Lay out your entire book set throughout your studying. Give yourself a break day if you can. Give yourself a catch-up day if needed. If you’re working a 12-hour shift then skip studying that day. That’s okay. Be very realistic.
Read a chapter. Analyze how much time it’s going to take you to read a chapter. Maybe you need to study three days to study a chapter, not one day or even half a day. Figure out how long you need to study a chapter.
There are people who are slow-readers and it may take longer than normal. But studying 10 hours per chapter can be too much. 700 hours of content review is too much.
[37:35] What is Too Long for Studying?
If you’re not taking your prereqs, it’s going to be different because you’re going to be relearning all your prereqs. There’s foundational knowledge that comes with the MCAT. And you can do it from an MCAT book if you want. But you actually learn those from your prereqs. Then review it for your MCAT.
For these people, try to learn loosely. Learn as much as you can for around 6-8 months just to get it all together. Then start MCAT studying.
But a normal student who has taken all the prereqs, even if it was 2-3 years ago, more than 8 months is too much for most people.'Remove a lot of the forgetting by using Anki. The relearning happens faster.'Click To Tweet
Don’t worry about forgetting what you studied because the relearning happens faster. Use Anki. You need that repetition. It’s not like you’re never going to be coming across those topics again. You’re still going to be doing practice questions and looking at videos. Keep up to date with it so everything stays fresh.
[40:00] Final Words of Wisdom
Do a four-year plan in terms of taking your prereqs classes. Make sure you try your best to get A’s on your prereqs. It’s okay if you don’t but try your best. Learn the information not just cram the information right before the test and forget it. Otherwise, the MCAT is going to come around and it’s going to be a lot harder for you.
Find a way to learn the information. If you’re in a school that doesn’t teach everything, you’re going to have to learn it on your own. Fill that gap that’s missing in your classes.
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